“All the time a person is a child he is both a child and learning to be a parent.” - Benjamin Spock

April 7, 2009

Originally uploaded by Roger Smith
During the winter, I must admit that we sometimes take our son to the local outlet of a National Chain Restaurant that has a giant play structure inside. Perhaps I should feel guilty for feeding my son four or five chemically altered chicken nuggets, but that guilt is heavily balanced by the opportunity for him to run and climb and swing on the giant playground equipment for an hour or two in the dead of winter, when its 14 degrees and there is two feet of snow on the ground.

The last time we were there, as we were leaving, we passed a man who was hauling a weeping child out by the arm.

"If you let anyone hit you again," the man said to the boy, "I'll punch you in the mouth."

My husband's mother (my son's beloved Mimi) spanked her boys with a wooden spoon. The boys laugh about it now; they were a military family and moved often - the boys love to tell the story of how once, when moving, their mother found a cache of wooden spoons - dozens, perhaps - that they boys had hidden away, in the forlorn hope that if there were no spoons to be found there would be no spankings.

I feel like, over the past few days, I've been running into spanking everywhere I look. Matt Haughey (noted blogger but not normally a parenting blogger) wrote earlier this week about how his parents would "whip" him and his brother with a belt, and how his grandmother, too, was a feared wielder of the wooden spoon. Ohio is considering a bill to outlaw "paddling" in public schools, and I find myself wondering how, exactly, that hadn't been done years ago. I was shocked to learn that although the State has a "limited ban" six school districts reported 110 paddlings of students during 2007-08 school year.

I like to think that we, as a society, have moved past hitting children as punishment, but I know it isn't true. I remember, long before our son was born, having dinner with another couple, friends who had two small daughters. Both parents (she a nurse and he a teacher) told us that they had spanked the girls, that sometimes "a good swat on the bottom" was the only way to teach. I remember glancing at Josh nervously during that conversation, realizing that we did not know these people as well as we thought we did, wondering where else our philosophies of living diverged. Before my son was born, my husband told me that he would "consider" spanking our child (natural, I suppose, as a child of a spanker himself) if the offense was grave enough. Now, though, I know he can't imagine himself ever doing it, ever pulling our small son over his lap, ever hitting our son for any reason. I'm confident in that, confident that neither of us would ever do it.

I found out recently, however, that Sarah, the woman who cares for our son during the day in her home, spanks her daughter. One of the reasons that the daughter (Hannah) gets spanked is because she sometimes bites my son.

I don't feel like he's in danger there. Sarah has gone through the process to become a certified in-home daycare provider, and I know she's taken classes and has random in home visits. I also know that Sarah is fairly religious (enough so that she has faith-promoting bumper stickers on her car), and that spanking is somewhat more common in highly religious households. Mostly, I guess, I just don't get it. She has a degree in early childhood education. She's warm and nurturing with the children in her care, and my son is comfortable there. I have no thoughts that she would ever hit him or hurt him in any way.

Now I'm faced with a quandary. Its not up to me to tell her how to parent her own child. We tried once before to move him out of her care (with disastrous results). And, of course, there is the issue that we're not exactly in a position right now to afford an inevitably more expensive childcare solution her "in the city". So what do I do? What would you do?


jenne.heise said...

I'm afraid I have been known to spank-- my brothers, certain children who I had permission to spank, and even Miss B 3 or 4 times--, and I shout too, which our Sarah disapproves of. Miss B does not fear me shouting, or me swatting her. I don't approve of paddling in the schools and I am especially disapproving of anything that causes significant fear. (That story made me begin to worry how I will raise Beekman so that his blood won't run cold at the sound of vigorous dishwashing in another room as mine does. Seriously. And my mom never hit me in those particular situations, which makes it harder to figure out.)

I would not spank a child without his or her parents' permission.